Wilkerson v. Wheeler, 772 F.3d 834 (9th Cir. 2015)

Only in the 9th Circuit can a panel ignore the pleadings and invent a rule never sought  in the Complaint or argued at trial. Wilkerson, a prison inmate under life sentence for crimes not described by the panel, filed a 42 U.S.1983 case against state correction officers alleging claims of questionable constitutional dimension. He had previously filed an administrative complaint dismissed by state prison officials; his state habeas corpus petition was denied; he then filed his 1983 complaint in U.S. district court.  At trial, the jury denied his allegations. Wilkerson appealed to the 9th Circuit.

Prison Corrections officers testified at trial they informed Wilkerson to return to his cell after he had copied some of his documents.  He refused, and officers were compelled to physically restrain him in compliance with their order.  Under the Heck v. Humphrey case, 512 U.S. 477 (1944) an inmate cannot testify in a 1983 case if a jury decision would render an attack on his sentence or duration of imprisonment.  But, according to the 9th Circuit, Wilkerson had been sentenced for life and therefore the Heck case inapplicable.  In other words, an inmate sentenced for life can file a 1983 case without restrictions imposed by 1983 Supreme Court law.

The 9th Circuit panel recited the officer’s testimony that Wilkerson refused to obey their order to return  to his cell, and he kicked and twisted.  The district court had denied Wilkerson his testimony under the Heck doctrine, and, in effect, the officer’s testimony was uncontradicted.  The 9th Circuit panel said the Heck rule prevented Wilkerson from testifying to the facts, but he could allege legal error.  How you allege legal error without the facts is an interesting question.

So, the panel said the district court judge had not instructed the jury correctly and that  the error is a legal question, not a factual issue.  Had Wilkerson testified that he offered no physical resistance, said the panel, the jury  might have found the officers used excessive force. Therefore, the judge should have modified the jury instruction to say the conduct Wilkerson engaged in for 1983 purposes did not have to necessarily be physical (according to Wilkerson.). That is the legal error. Oh.

Not only is this academic hairsplitting absurd, this jury instruction was never submitted,  argued or briefed by Wilkerson. He objected to the Heck rule that he could not testify but made no request for the district court to explain that resistance may not necessarily be confined to physical evidence.

Here is a case of a life sentence imposed prisoner whose administrative complaint in prison against the correction officers was denied; his habeas corpus petition denied; his trial lost, has now added to the time it took to have a jury originally find him guilty (the panel does not describe the crimes he committed to warrant a life sentence.)  The 9th Circuit has reversed the district court in this 1983 case, and now the judge must conduct another 1983 trial with some kind of modified jury instruction.  A frivolous complaint matched to a frivolous decision. Congress enacted the Prison Reform Litigation Act (42 U.S.C. 1997) to prevent just this kind of judicial verbal manipulation.

Mann v. Ryan, 774 F.3d 1203 (9th Cir. 2014)

Another death penalty case reversed by a 9th Circuit panel in a 2-1 majority. This case qualifies as one of the worst decisions ever rendered  by a 9th Circuit panel and warrants an en banc hearing.  If denied, when the case on certiorari goes to the Supreme Court, their reversal language will exceed any other in their constant chastisement of the 9th Circuit.  This case does not even come close to the repeated explanation of federal habeas corpus authority issued by the Supreme Court.

This case is a 1989 execution planned by Mann, and he executed it by killing two men inside a house. Mann and another person scrupulously cleaned and renovated the house where the execution occurred, both destroyed their weapons and buried the dead bodies in a remote location.  The former girlfriend of Mann was present during the crime .Later, she reported the crime to police and testified at the trial.  The jury convicted Mann, who did not testify, and the judge imposed the death sentence.

Even the majority opinion demonstrates excellent representation by defense counsel.  At the sentencing hearing, counsel had introduced more than enough mitigation testimony at the trial, including a psychologist who testified Mann’s  head injury suffered as an adolescent did not affect his judgment.  Evidence that Mann thoroughly cleaned the house of any incriminating evidence, destroyed the weapons, and dumped the bodies in a remote area hardly suggests any cognitive impairment.

The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the merits and sentence. The federal district court affirmed.  On appeal to the 9th Circuit, Mann alleged the usual “ineffective assistance of counsel” argument -so commonly used in the 9th Circuit the judges refer to it by its acronym; IAOC).  At an evidentiary hearing held after trial, the defense lawyer testified he considered recusing himself because the defendant wanted to lie at the trial, and counsel would not engage in perjury.  Further, Mann  had previous convictions which would make impeachment of his testimony even worse.  There is not a shred of mitigating testimony that would have changed the judge’s sentence.

Not according to the 9th Circuit panel, citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) and ignoring all the Supreme Court habeas corpus jurisprudence demanding the 9th Circuit to respect AEDPA and not to rule on collateral review as you would on direct review. The test: to reverse on  habeas corpus: the federal court must find the state decision had been the result of an incompetent state judicial system.  The rest of the Mann opinion cites alleged failures of counsel to get medical records, interview witnesses, and other defense tools.

According to the panel, the sentencing judge mistakenly applied the Strickland standard as “clearly established federal law.”  The author of the Mann opinion should have read all the Supreme Court cases on the double deference accorded to state court decisions required to violate Strickland.

No lawyer in the 9th Circuit can escape the obvious fact that the death penalty will never be invoked no matter what it takes – including misinterpretation of the law as evidenced by the judicial manipulation in Schad v. Ryan.

For confirmation of this observation, read the dissent.

Some day, the Supreme Court will forbid federal habeas corpus in the 9th Circuit just as the Justices did in state search and seizure and parole cases. Ninth Circuit  panels have issued a  constant stream of opinions based on ineffective assistance of counsel when the court cannot find legal error.

Here is what the Supreme Court told the 6th Circuit about habeas corpus in Burt v.Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10 (2013)   “AEDPA instructs that, when a federal habeas petitioner challenges the factual basis for a prior state-court decision rejecting a claim, the federal court may overturn the state court’s decision only if it was “based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding;” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). The prisoner bears the burden of rebutting the state court’s factual findings “by clear and convincing evidence.” § 2254(e)(1). We have not defined the precise relationship between § 2254(d)(2) and § 2254(e)(1), and we need not do so here. See Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 293, 130 S.Ct. 841, 175 L.Ed.2d 738 (2010). For present purposes, it is enough to reiterate “that a state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.” Id., at 301, 130 S.Ct. 841. AEDPA likewise imposes a highly deferential standard for reviewing claims of legal error by the state courts: A writ of habeas corpus may issue only if the state court’s decision “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by” this Court. § 2254(d)(1).

[3] Headnote Citing References[4] Headnote Citing References AEDPA recognizes a foundational principle of our federal system: State courts are adequate forums for the vindication of federal rights. “[T]he States possess sovereignty concurrent with that of the Federal Government, subject only to limitations imposed by the Supremacy Clause. Under this system of dual sovereignty, we have consistently held that state courts have inherent authority, and are thus presumptively competent, to adjudicate claims arising under the laws of the United States.” Tafflin v. Levitt, 493 U.S. 455, 458, 110 S.Ct. 792, 107 L.Ed.2d 887 (1990). This principle applies to claimed violations of constitutional, as well as statutory, rights. See Trainor v. Hernandez, 431 U.S. 434, 443, 97 S.Ct. 1911, 52 L.Ed.2d 486 (1977). Indeed, “state courts have the solemn responsibility equally with the federal courts to safeguard constitutional rights,” and this Court has refused to sanction any decision that would “reflec[t] negatively upon [a] state court’s ability to do so.” Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted). Especially where a case involves such a common claim as ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland—a claim state courts have now adjudicated in countless criminal cases for nearly 30 years—“there is no intrinsic reason why the fact that a man is a federal judge should make him more competent, or conscientious, or learned … than his neighbor in the state courthouse.” Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465, 494, n. 35, 96 S.Ct. 3037, 49 L.Ed.2d 1067 (1976) (internal quotation marks omitted). [Headnote Citing ReferencesRecognizing the duty and ability of our state-court colleagues to adjudicate *16 claims of constitutional wrong, AEDPA erects a formidable barrier to federal habeas relief for prisoners whose claims have been adjudicated in state court. AEDPA requires “a state prisoner [to] show that the state court’s ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error … beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. ––––, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786–787, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011). “If this standard is difficult to meet”—and it is—“that is because it was meant to be.” Id., at ––––, 131 S.Ct., at 786. We will not lightly conclude that a State’s criminal justice system has experienced the “extreme malfunctio[n]” for which federal habeas relief is the remedy. Id., at ––––, 131 S.Ct., at 786 (internal quotation marks omitted).

 

 

III

 

 

Ryan v. Henry, 775 F.3d 1112 (9th Cir. 2014)

The Supreme Court reverses the 9th Circuit more than any other federal court, and the current term will duplicate that record.  But in the 9th Circuit’s latest case some of the “usual suspects” try another device to avoid the death penalty as they did in Schad v. Ryan.  That case is an embarrassing rendition of “appellate abuse” described by the Supreme Court.  The 9th Circuit panel ignored the mandate of the Supreme Court denial of Schad’s petition for certiorari.  Instead, the 9th Circuit panel returned his case to the district court for further hearings. That 9th Circuit decision is not a case of negligence; it was a defiance of the Supreme Court intentionally rendered.

The 9th Circuit has done it again.  Ryan v. Henry is willful appellate defiance of federal rules of procedure.  The mind numbing rendition of the procedural history of the case is an attempt to once again subvert a death penalty decision. The Supreme Court had denied Henry’s petition for certiorari on an issue of alleged structural error in the trial court and his appeal denied by a 9th Circuit panel. Henry petitioned for a rehearing of  the result and sought reconsideration of the en banc hearing.

Granted- in violation of 9th Circuit rules- the panel reheard the petition in conjunction with a related case.  In a final decision by the Chief Judge, he denied the petition to stay the proceedings until the related case  was decided. The unrelated case (with similar issues) was consolidated, argued and the court ruled the stay in Henry was decided.

In this thirty year old case, Henry only argued the penalty.  Factual innocence was never an issue.

Immigration Cases

Because the 9th Circuit reverses so many of the immigration (BIA) cases, a few examples will explain the absurd excuses the court accepts to allow people to remain in the United States.  Instead of requiring an entrant to establish the right to live in the United States, the 9th Circuit imposes the burden of proof to exclude or deport someone on the government.

U.S. v. Raya-Vaca, 771 F.3d 1195 (9th Cir. 2014): Raya-Vaca was deported 6 times from the United States and was now in expedited removal proceedings.  According to the 9th Circuit, the IJ did not inform Raya- Vaca of the proceedings filed against him,  and that failure violates Due Process. Raya-Vaca, having been deported 6 times, should have little doubt of his awareness of the proceedings and the consequences . ” No”, said the court.  Due Process occurred, the all – purpose 9th Circuit rule that knows no boundaries and invoked by the 9th Circuit to impose public policy.

Almanza v. Holder, 771 F.3d 1184 (9th Cir 2014): Almanza was convicted under California Vehicle Code 10851(a) (permanently or temporarily taking a motor vehicle from the owner without permission).  The statute is in the alternative and the record did not reflect which kind of theft was applicable to Almanza.  The code section is one of moral turpitude for immigration purposes and subject to deportation of an alien if the vehicular theft is “permanent,”  but not if “temporary.”  But the record does not show which alternative.  So, the 9th Circuit panel remanded to the IJ to find out.

Why a remand? Let the alien submit the record to establish the theft was “temporary.” The lawyer probably didn’t know the procedure and the 9th Circuit panel invented its own rule and provided the explanation.
Talk about academic hair splitting.  Why should an illegal alien commit a crime of theft and stay in this country based on statutory quibble or without furnishing the court with the record?

For other immigration cases go to earlier pages.

Frudden v. Pilling, 742 F.3d 1199 (9th Cir. 2014)

Only the 9th Circuit writes a decision in this case that a court would consider, and resolution could have been decided in two paragraphs. In Frudden v. Pilling the plaintiffs filed a Complaint alleging their objections to a local elementary school that had decided to require a dress code for all students.  Imprinted on the shirts read the words “Tomorrow’s Leaders”, a photo of the Gophers (apparently the school motto), and an exception for students wearing the shirts who were members of the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts.  The plaintiff’s Complaint alleges “Tomorrow’s Followers” were excluded.  Viewpoint discrimination and not content neutral.

First, the 9th Circuit panel listed all the parental failures in their drive for a dress code at the elementary school as though they should have complied with federal election laws. Then the panel launched into a discussion whether the Complaint violated the First Amendment, contending the motto (“Tomorrow’s Leaders”) imprinted on the shirts was not content neutral, and the emphasis on Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts exclusion from wearing the shirts discriminatory. The panel remanded the case to the district court for the plaintiff to amend the Complaint and the district court to do something.

The distinct court read the pleadings and the record and wondered who was doing what.  In the plaintiff’s oral argument they conceded the motto was acceptable and only wanted other national youth organizations exempted from wearing the shirts in addition to the Scouts. The district court wondered why this case came back from the 9th Circuit on issues not in dispute and unrelated to the appellate record.  The defendants moved to clarify the record written in the 9th Circuit opinion.  Motion to clarify granted. Apparently there is no dispute at all, or if there is one, the 9th Circuit panel can explain if the parties elect to appeal the district court clarifying decision.  The elementary school students will understand the First Amendment strict scrutiny test applied by the 9th Circuit panel in this exciting case.

All the parties had to do was sit down and negotiate.  Not one of the 9th Circuit panel suggested they do that.

Maricopa Co., Arizona v. Angel Valenzuela, 135 S.Ct. 428 (2014)

The 9th Circuit has stymied every attempt by the State of Arizona to identify and return illegal aliens who illegally entered this country.  If the federal government, which insists on unqualified immigration jurisdiction, would adopt Arizona statutes the immigrant issue would be resolved.  In Maricopa County 8 years ago the citizens enacted a statute by referendum denying bail for persons arrested and detained for determination of legal status.  Obviously an illegal alien is likely to flee after arrest and incarceration if bail is unnecessary.  Not according to a 9th Circuit panel denying enforcement of the Arizona statute on an en banc hearing reversing the three judge panel that had enforced the law; 770 F.3d 772 (2014).

The naiveté of this court is incomparable.  Does anyone think a person in detention will not flee as soon as he is released because of his illegal status in the country?  The 9th Circuit court, using the old worn out, all purpose policy excuse of the Due Process Clause, invalidated the statute. The County sought a stay of the order but the Supreme Court denied  the petition. Justice Thomas commented:.

Statement of Justice THOMAS, with whom Justice SCALIA joins, respecting the denial of the application for a stay.

“Petitioner [Maricopa Co.] asks us to stay a judgment of the United States Court Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holding unconstitutional an amendment to the Arizona Constitution that the State’s citizens approved overwhelmingly in a referendum eight years ago. I join my colleagues in denying this application only because there appears to be no “reasonable probability that four Justices will consider the issue sufficiently meritorious to grant certiorari.” Hollingsworth v. Perry, 558 U.S. 183, 190, 130 S.Ct. 705, 175 L.Ed.2d 657 (2010) (per curiam). That is unfortunate.

We have recognized a strong presumption in favor of granting writs of certiorari to review decisions of lower courts holding federal statutes unconstitutional. See United States v. Bajakajian, 524 U.S. 321, 327, 118 S.Ct. 2028, 141 L.Ed.2d 314 (1998); United States v. Gainey, 380 U.S. 63, 65, 85 S.Ct. 754, 13 L.Ed.2d 658 (1965). States deserve no less consideration. See Janklow v. Planned Parenthood, Sioux Falls Clinic, 517 U.S. 1174, 1177, 116 S.Ct. 1582, 134 L.Ed.2d 679 (1996) (SCALIA, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari: (“This decision is questionable enough that we should, since the invalidation of state law is at issue, accord review”). Indeed, we often review decision striking down state laws, even in the absence of a disagreement among lower courts. See, e.g., Hollingsworth v. Perry, 570 U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 2652, 186 L.Ed.2d 768 (2013); Cook v. Gralike, 531 U.S. 510, 121 S.Ct. 1029, 149 L.Ed.2d 44 (2001); Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489, 119 S.Ct. 1518, 143 L.Ed.2d 689 (1999); Renne v. Geary, 501 U.S. 312, 111 S.Ct. 2331, 115 L.Ed.2d 288 (1991); Massachusetts v. Oakes, 491 U.S. 576, 109 S.Ct. 2633, 105 L.Ed.2d 493 (1989). But for reasons that escape me, we have not done so with any consistency, especially in recent months. See, e.g., Herbert v. Kitchen, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 265, ––– L.Ed.2d –––– (2014); Smith v. Bishop, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 271, ––– L.Ed.2d –––– (2014); Rainey v. Bostic, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 286, ––– L.Ed.2d –––– (2014); Walker v. Wolf, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 316, ––– L.Ed.2d –––– (2014); see also Otter v. Latta, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 345, –––L.Ed.2d –––– (2014) (denying a stay); Parnell v. Hamby, ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 399, ––– L.Ed.2d –––– (2014) (same). At the very least, we owe the people of Arizona the respect of our review before we let stand a decision facially invalidating a state constitutional amendment. Of course, the Court has yet to act on a petition for writ of certiorari in this matter, and I hope my prediction about whether that petition will be granted proves wrong. Our recent practice, however, gives me little reason to be optimistic.”

Justice Thomas is correct.  The referendum was enacted by Arizona voters contingent on state sovereignty.  The Supreme Court may understandably agree the federal government exercises jurisdiction on who may enter the country, but once a person is inside country borders state sovereignty exists, and the  people decide requirements for residence.

 


Judges and Attorneys (Back to top)
Judges
  • Scalia, Hon. Antonin Gregory

 

Taylor v. Cate, 772 F.3d 842 (9th Cir.2014)

Several judges on the 9th Circuit who have never tried a criminal case apparently are completely unaware of the cost and injustice of some of their opinions. The author of Taylor is in that group.

Taylor was convicted in state court of shooting and killing a store clerk in a two-man robbery.  The prosecutor could not establish which of the two men did the actual shooting and informed the jury the non shooter was an aider and abettor and as guilty as the principle.  The jury found Taylor was the shooter, and the court sentenced him as the principle.

Somehow, the DA and police subsequently discovered Taylor was not the shooter and the jury had made a mistake.  This commendable prosecutorial investigation was administratively opened and eventually the prosecutor and trial judge agreed to a reduced sentence. Taylor filed this procedure for review in the California Court of Appeal on grounds of erroneous sentencing, and on denial by the court he sought review in the California Supreme Court  The Supreme Court in its order referred only to resentencing, not the grounds Taylor alleged as “not guilty” as a principle. Remanded to the Court of Appeal.

The California Court of Appeal on remand affirmed the judgment of the trial court; the California Supreme Court denied review; the federal magistrate denied the petition for habeas corpus in district court.  The 9th Circuit panel granted the petition in an incomprehensible opinion.  When 9th Circuit judges want to reach their ideological opinions, they find their way and always for the defendant.  Taylor v. Cate is deja vu all over again.

According to the 9th Circuit majority panel, the California Supreme Court order only applied to resentencing, not Taylor’s claim on the merits that the jury had not found him guilty as an aider and abettor, avoiding AEDPA, and on remand the California Court of Appeal held only the resentencing was approved. Now the panel could review de novo.

What better and fairer resolution of sentence reduction could be found anywhere except in the 9th Circuit?  The panel ruled the jury had never convicted Taylor as an aider and abettor and he must be retried.  In the meantime, the other robber was found not guilty. This case was tried in 1987 and now both men are free unless the prosecutor can find witnesses to retry Taylor as an aider and abettor. He would be sentenced, if found guilty, to the same sentence the DA recommended and the trial court approved.The defendant was found guilty as a principle but the sentence is higher than for an aider and abettor.  Both are treated equally for purposes of conviction, and Taylor should be sentenced as an aider and abettor. Which the trial court did.

The majority panel writes that the sentencing error is not harmless and deprives the defendant of a trial as an aider and abettor under the Sixth Amendment and Due Process Clause.  The author of the panel cited a 9th Circuit case reversed by the Supreme Court in support of her decision.

The dissent seeks an equitable decision.  If the DA cannot re try this 1987 case because witnesses cannot be found, both defendants go free.  What an injustice. The trial court understood.  The DA was oriented to justice in agreeing to a reduced sentence.  All the California courts and the federal court agreed. En banc time, and if denied, petition for cert. alleging another 9th Circuit error to add to their record.

Mayes v. Premo, 766 F.3d 949 (9th Cir. 2014)

When  the Supreme Court decided Batson v. Kentucky the Justices never eliminated the AEDPA provisions requiring federal deference to state courts on habeas corpus.  Each time the Supreme Court reverses the 9th Circuit the Justices verbally lash refusal of several federal judges who fail to adhere to AEDPA.  And in each of these reviews the Court imposes stricter provisions than before.  In Mayes v. Premo the majority of the 9th Circuit panel correctly cites its role as federal habeas corpus judges: uphold the state trial court finding that the prosecutor did not excuse black jurors on racial grounds unless the record is clearly wrong.

But one judge In Mayes dissents, ignores AEDPA, and reviews the finding of the trial court de novo. In other words, he just makes up his own mind and substitutes his own judgment.  The trial judge specifically upheld the defense objection to the prosecution peremptory challenge of a potential black juror; the Oregon Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge; the Oregon Supreme Court denied review; the U.S. district court judge denied the habeas corpus petiton.  In other words, this judge ignores 12 judges with his aberrant dissent and disregard of the law.

The Batson case has made every case involving a black or Hispanic defendant a ground for appeal if the prosecutor excuses a minority juror. The dissenting judge in Mayes, who has never tried a criminal case, apparently thinks he can impose his judgment from reading a cold record. A trial lawyer excuses jurors for a variety of reasons, regardless of race.  The juror’s demeanor, their voice; the way they answer questions; the inconsistency of their answers to questions in court or their pre trial questionnaire; or just plain dislike of a potential juror.  None of this shows up on a cold appellate record.  Add to that the Supreme Court comment that the trial judge is the best observer of voir dire.  The  dissent shows complete disregard for these factors.

The amount of time taken to voir dire the jury is now incredible, and even though the evidence consists of overwhelming evidence of guilt, if one juror is arguably excused wrongfully, this judge will reverse. His decision in this case is not the first time he and others judges search the trial record in a quest for error.

Glebe v. Frost, 133 S.Ct. 429 (2014) Reversing 9th Cir.

Another reversal of the 9th Circuit, and we are only two weeks into the current term of the Supreme Court. The Justices have already reversed five cases.  The Glebe decision is per curiam by (all members of the Supreme Court).

The defendant Frost began a series of robberies eleven your ago along with other men. At the trial he admitted participation in the robberies. Tried and convicted of the robberies and other related crimes, he appealed to the Washington Supreme Court who affirmed the conviction.  Frost filed a habeas petition in federal court and was denied.  On appeal to the 9th Circuit; the panel affirmed the order but on en banc hearing: reversed.

Frost claimed the trial judge would not let him argue failure of the trial court to allow him to argue the state did not establish corroboration of the accomplices who testified against him, and that he committed the robberies under duress.  How you can argue the absence of corroborating witnesses to committing the crime and contend you were under duress is a good question.

According to the 9th Circuit, the trial court erred in failing to allow counsel to argue inconsistent defenses. On cert., the Supreme Court did not address this question because the 9th Circuit en banc panel used their own precedent to determine whether AEDPA had been applied without any “clearly established” Supreme Court law as fully discussed in the recently decided Lopez case. The Supreme Court informed the 9th Circuit (again) it cannot rarely on its own precedents.

But the main issue revolved around the trial court decision whether refusing to allow inconsistent defenses constituted “structural error.”  Most Constitutional errors warrant reversal only if the the error is harmless.  Structural error “must infect the entire trial process and render it unfair.” In reviewing the trial record the Supreme Court concluded no infection of the entire trial process rendered it unfair, particularly when testified to his commission of the crimes (but under duress).

 

Wood v. Moss, 134 S.Ct. 2056 (2014); reversing 9th Circuit)

Although the Supreme Court decided this case in May, 2014, the recent November 2014 elections remind us the Presidential election remains only 2 years away, and  events similar to those in Wood v. Moss, which occurred at the time of President Bush’s election, may recur.

President Bush was campaigning for re election in Oregon and scheduled to spend the night in a small town.  As he walked through the streets accompanied by Secret Service Agents, two groups followed him.  One group was challenging the President for re election, and another group supporting him. Secret Service Agents were cooperating with local police for crowd control and trying to keep the distance between the two groups and the President roughly the same.  At the last minute, the President changed his plans and entered a restaurant.  The Secret Service Agents re positioned the two groups in their distance from the President.

The plaintiffs alleged a First Amendment violation of “viewpoint discrimination,” contending the Agents discriminated against them because their location was disabling them from seeing the President, as distinct from the supporting groups. Incredibly, the 9th Circuit agreed, not only on the viewpoint discrimination issue but also denied the agents qualified immunity allegedly having violated  “clearly established” federal law.

A unanimous Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Agents could not necessarily equalize the distance between plaintiff’s group and the supporting group, particularly when the President changed his route without notifying them As to the qualified immunity argument,  the Justices knew of no law “clearly established” under the circumstances and unanimously reversed this absurd 9th Circuit opinion.